I’ve been an Android user since the HTC G1 which was the very first commercially available Android handset. I’ve touched or owned just about every Android phone since then, and every year I give the latest iPhone a try to see how Apple is doing. I also own a Retina iPad mini, which I use most days. I feel like Apple is finally at a point where I could comfortably flip back and forth between iOS and Android without any problems. For the first time, I don’t feel like the iPhone is lacking anything significant.
iPhone 6′s hardware
The out-of-the-box experience is exactly what I expected. The iPhone 6 is light, thin, and initially seemed strong. I especially like the way the glass curves off the display, making the whole front of the phone feel like a single piece. It’s not as comfortable to hold as the HTC One M8 or the Moto X, and I suspect that has everything to do with the curved back on those phones. The power button is in the perfect place now that the phone is larger, in fact I wish everyone would figure out that there should no longer be buttons on the top of our phones. I hardly ever use the power button anyway, since pressing in the home button and holding my thumb in place for another second so TouchID can unlock the phone is so convenient.
That camera bulge is obnoxious. I use my phone as it lays on the desk half a dozen times every day, and I have no interest in putting my phone in a case. Mind you it’s just about as obnoxious as the curved back to the Moto X and the HTC One M8, only you can type without any wobble, so I got over it quickly. Also, the speakers are in the worst possible place for playing games but work reasonably well for everything else. Once you cover those speaker holes, you can forget about hearing whatever it is you are playing.
As I am one of many people currently dealing with the phone having warped in my pocket, it’s hard for me to say this is a good overall design. It’s visually striking, and there’s plenty of reason to appreciate a good visual design, but it is clear that the iPhone 6 is far from durable (same goes for the iPhone 6 Plus). While, again, the first answer to this seems to be just putting a case on the phone, it becomes difficult to even bother commenting on the design of a device if it is going to slide out of the box and straight into a case in order to survive.
iPhone 6 software
This is a big year for iOS fans. A notification system that isn’t terrible, replaceable keyboards, and a battery reporting system that actually makes sense make up a short list of features that are a really big deal this time around. Of course, with that comes a few caveats.
Replaceable iOS 8 keyboards are awesome. As an Android fan, being able to use Swype on an iPhone sounded like a really sweet deal. For the first day, it really was. The 4.7-inch screen on the iPhone 6 is perfect for Swype, and the keyboard feels faster than this same app on most Android phones. Unfortunately, it’s not the most stable piece of software in the world. Unlike a normal iOS app, when your keyboard crashes it does not do so gracefully. Swype crashes roughly twice a day for me right now, and most of the other keyboards I have tried don’t fare much better. It’s easy enough to get your stock keyboard back, but it’s probably going to be a while before replaceable keyboards are a great experience on iOS.
The new notification system is a huge deal for me. I can set notification behaviors per app, and those notifications can either pop up on the screen or slide down from the top for a moment before sliding away. You can pull down your notification tray and see all of your notifications at any time, and in that notification tray you can access some basic widgets for a ton of information. As a quick glance for calendar or driving conditions, the experience is very nice. Unfortunately, this notification tray only exists when you pull it down. That means when you get one of these simple creep down notifications it blocks the top half inch of the display, which is almost always where the back button for every app lives. It means if you get a notification and choose not to interact with it, you have to wait until it creeps back up before continuing with whatever task you were in the middle of doing.
Finally, battery reporting. At long last, iOS users know exactly what apps are consuming your battery. You get a percentage readout, and in the event that background data is the culprit you get a little bit of text explaining that. Of course, you can’t actually do anything from this screen. Tapping on the section of the UI that displays the misbehaving apps doesn’t actually do anything. You have to back out of this screen and deal with each one individually. You can’t just access multi-tasking and close the app either, because that won’t actually solve the problem. It’s strange that Apple doesn’t offer any kind of resolution through this screen should a problem actually arise, but in an ideal world you’d never need to come here anyway.
Ultimately these are huge steps forward for iOS users, but if you’re already used to these features on other platforms it can feel a lot like trying to catch up and stumbling at the finish line.